The Cleveland Browns have begun long-term planning and study internally, along with informal conversations with city officials and civic leaders, about a new football stadium in downtown Cleveland or major renovations, according to an on-the-record interview by ESPN with Dee Haslam.
In either case, major accompanying development would be a leading factor.
"We’re excited for the opportunity to be part of the conversation about downtown re-development. We should be part of the conversation in a bigger way, and I think we will be," Haslam said. "It’s really important to find out what’s possible. There could be a lot of great ideas that we might not be able to do because it’s not feasible for one reason or another. I don’t want to get the horse in front of the cart until we’re knowledgeable enough to know, because we’re not informed enough to know right now. But we do know that we have a desire to make a bigger impact on the future of Cleveland."
The team's current lease at FirstEnergy Stadium, which was hurriedly approved and built to welcome the expansion-era Browns in 1999, ends in 2029. The facility, paid for by a sin tax, is not exactly considered a great or even average stadium by NFL standards, and underwent $120 million in renovations three years ago. $30 million of that pricetag was covered by the city of Cleveland, paid off over 15 years.
As for what's being considered, it's all on the table right now, but the Browns are in early fact-finding mode (which will naturally include an economic study that will undoubtedly show, despite prevailing academic evidence to the contrary
, that the team and a new or renovated facility will create a sizable impact on downtown). So, yeah, they'll talk about putting a roof on the current structure or perhaps building a dome.
"I have no idea at this point what’s even feasible," Haslam said. "Don’t you think it’s a good idea for us to learn and figure that out? Those are all the questions that you ask over the next five years. We are not developers. We don’t know about it. We are in the learning stages of what you would do, so we don’t know. I don’t think anybody has any idea of how that would work. I think it’s way premature to have some of these conversations."
Now's a good time to remind you that a) we still haven't paid off the original construction costs of Quicken Loans Arena, as the city's admission tax will go toward paying off those bonds through 2023; b) Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland, and Destination Cleveland will be paying off the taxpayers' portion of the Q Renovation
, about $160 million of the $282 million total, through 2034; c) it's not out of the realm of possibility that by 2034 the Cavs will be talking about a new arena, which is also when the new lease will end, though it includes provisions for two five-year extensions; d) new stadiums cost about $1 billion; e) FirstEnergy Stadium hosts 10 football games a year and the occasional concert or soccer game every 365 days.
If you're wondering where some of the public coin on the project might come from, because it will undoubtedly include taxpayer money: The county passed a quarter-percent sales tax increase in 2007, running for 20 years, to pay for the $450 million convention center and medical mart. It's not hard to imagine county officials selling the idea of keeping the increased rate beyond 2027 to chip in on whatever the Browns end up deciding, while telling voters it's not a new tax.
One upside from Haslam's interview that runs contrary to Dan Gilbert, Frank Jackson, Armond Budish and the rest of the cohorts who feverishly sought to push through the Q deal without input from voters: It appears she wants Cleveland to decide, sorta, maybe.
"I really do think [it] would be a decision by the people of Cleveland and the planners," she said. "I think what we need to do is be part of the conversation."